Once again with Iran in the news, I’m reminded of my friend Selene Walters and her almost-forgotten headline whirlwind romance with the Shah of Iran.
Selene began modeling in Washington D.C. to earn extra money while working for the WPA. Modeling was easy for the blonde beauty and her brother influenced her to move to New York City and see if she could pursue a modeling career. With his help she met Mr. John Powers of the John Robert Powers Modeling Agency and with one quick runway walk and turn, “He signed me up right away.”
One afternoon while lunching at the famous 21 Club, she was spotted by Buddy De Sylva, at that time the president of Paramount Pictures in New York. He sent a note over to her table with his card that read, “If you would like to go to Hollywood and be in movies, be at my office at the Paramount building tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock sharp.”
The next morning on the dot she was in his office with several producers who were looking for fresh faces, and would she be interested in signing a Hollywood contract to make movies? “Well I certainly would, and I signed up right there on the spot!” Soon she was on a train bound for Hollywood, and it wasn’t long before she was settled into a Beverly Hills apartment and enjoying all the frills from her new found career and lifestyle.
One day she glanced at the cover of Time Magazine and there was the Shah of Iran and it read, “Now the world’s most famous bachelor! The Shah of Iran divorces Egyptian Princess Fawzia Fuad, the former Queen of Iran.” She said to herself, “If he’s so eligible, I’d like to meet him.” The next day she telephoned a secondhand dealer, sold all her furniture to help gather all the money she could, and the rest is history.
She headed for New York, where at a party, purely by chance she met Aristotle Onassis, the wealthy billionaire shipping magnate, also a single bachelor, and he invited her to dinner. During the evening she mentioned to Mr. Onassis she wanted to meet the Shah of Iran and he told her she’d have to head for Europe. Passage to Europe was not in her budget and Mr. Onassis offered, “I have a ship leaving from Newport tomorrow and I will pick you up, drive you to the dock, and you’ll be on your way.” Naturally she accepted.
Once she arrived in France, she caught the first train to Paris and from there caught a plane to Nice where she ran in to Stephen Crane, newly divorced from Lana Turner. She confided in Crane, “I am here to meet the Shah of Iran.”
Somewhat shocked, he said, “Why do you want to meet him?”
“Well, I just think it would be exciting to know him,” and so he invited her to a dinner party at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. “While dining I noticed they were rapidly arranging another large table of guests and low and behold there he was, the Shah himself!
“Somehow I managed to catch his eye and he came over and asked me to dance. It was pure magic for the next three weeks, until the studio called me and said, ‘Selene you are making headlines all over the United States and you must immediately return home or you will lose your career and your daughter. Your ex-husband is calling you unfit in the newspapers.’
“What could I do? I left for home brokenhearted, because my daughter came first. To this day she has refused to speak to me for almost 50 years, and so not only did I lose my love, the Shah, but I also lost the love of my only daughter.
“The Shah understood and years later I went to a reception and when I approached him in the reception line he said, ‘Oh, my dear Selene, how is your daughter?’”
Life can be so cruel.